Random thoughts and happenings from rural KwaZulu Natal, South Africa

**Strong gale force winds for 24 hours make me edgy and confined to my little house.  Thank goodness some neighbor kids still come over to draw and play cards and eat my cookies and get crumbs all over but then sweep them up.

**Some days there is no food provided at school.  The supplier doesn’t deliver or the department decides it is a day we don’t give food.  Do they think (?) that children aren’t hungry every day?  For some children, it is their only substantial meal of the day.  The children are at school from 7:30 am to 2:30 pm and they are really hungry by the time school is dismissed.

I am also wondering about the connection between nutrition and cognition and attention span.  Many of these children have very short attention spans, can’t think through a logical problem, and have short memories for what has already been taught.  Their diet is short of protein, green vegetables, and fruit but high in white carbs (mealie maize, pap, rice, samp, potatoes) that fills their bellies but not their brain.  Is there a connection (outside of a culture that doesn’t support reading and math skills)?

**Qhawe came in second in the regional competition in solo singing performance.  His high school choir came in first.  He has a beautiful voice!

**A regret: I wish I had been placed with a more interactive family.  There are so many times when I am here alone.  If Thulile is home as well, she stays in her house and never seeks me out for company.  We greet each other in a friendly way but that is about it.  Luyanda has been away at boarding school for over a year and comes home only during holidays.  Qhawe is staying with relatives close to his high school and comes home only occasionally.  Mr. N. has three wives, three homes, many children, his job as a policeman, his work as a church elder, and is chairperson of the Student Governing Board of Okhayeni.  He comes and goes for short periods, occasionally says hello if I am outside, but really is rarely seen.

**The neighbor children come to my house and knock on the door and ask if I have water.  They take my empty water containers over to the JoJo and fill them and bring them back to me.  Isn’t that sweet and wonderful?!!?  I give them cookies or candies as a thank you reward.  I don’t give them money.

**It is 70 paces across the compound to the privy (toilet) from my front door.  Usually, I am walking there sometime between 5 and 6 am, carrying my roll of toilet paper and my pee bucket.  If it is still dark, I take a torch (flashlight).  It is usually not a problem, except when it rains. Then, the ground is wet and slippery and muddy and I am always thinking that at any moment I will splat onto the ground, be covered with muck, be embarrassed, and wish for the millionth time that I lived in a place with an indoor flush toilet.  So far, probably because we are experiencing a drought and it doesn’t rain too much, it hasn’t happened.

**It is getting to be winter (autumn, really) here in South Africa, and it is a bit cooler. There have been two chilly days.  It is still quite warm in the afternoons.  My fan died but it is no longer hot enough to need it.

**One of the native plants here is called umhlangula. [oomthlangoola].  It is a small tree/large bush with very small fruits on it.  The fruits are ripe when they turn purple; they have a hard seed inside.  On the way home from school, the kids attack a bush, tear off a branch full of fruit and munch on the snack as they walk.  It is a wonder the plant survives but they are quite plentiful.  The kids share their fruits with me and laugh loudly at my attempts to pronounce it.


A close-up of a branch of umhlangula



Zulu (a neighbor and a Grade 2 learner working with me on SOUNS) sits on my porch eating umhlangula fruits from a branch of a bush.

**My last package arrived from the Cherry Pie in July book group.  Inside were about 300 ballpoint pens that were collected in various venues (including their messy drawers) by the group.  The teachers, once again, were overjoyed to get pens from America!!  I gave each of my 42 Grade 7 learners a brand new “ordinary” pen and taught them to say “thank you” when someone gives them a gift.  There were Clif and Luna bars in the box, and two novels, and letters from friends.  It is so interesting to receive a letter written several months previously.   Reminded me of the pioneer times or the early white settlers waiting for news from family in Europe.  Thank you!  Thank you!  Thank you!


My package from America arrived, full of goodies!

**I painted tree and flower stencils on one of the family’s houses, the children’s house.  It matches mine!


The stencils are now decorating two of the three houses in the compound.

**Interesting lunchtime conversation: just like when I was at North Star, one of the best times of the day is when a group of teachers eat and talk.  Here, I sit with a small group and I learn so much:  Married Zulu men and women do not usually hold hands when walking in public.  They might not even walk with each other but rather one in front/behind the other.  They do not kiss or hug in public.  They do not hug or kiss in front of their children.  After age 9 or so, girls are not hugged or kissed by their fathers.  Women do hug other women.  Men hug other men.  Full-on frontal hugs are reserved only for a spouse.  A hand shake and a side shoulder hug can occur with other people you know well, including family.    A married man does not hug other married women and may be upset if his wife were to hug a married man.

I have only rarely seen anyone hug a child.  Babies and toddlers are carried around on a woman’s back tied on with a big bath towel or light blanket.  Only rarely have I seen an adult play with a child.

**Ma’am Zulu had all four tires (recently new) stolen off of her car at night while it was sitting in the carport in front of her house.  The thieves took the tires and rims and left the car propped up on stones.  She took the day off school and went directly to the police department to report the incident. She needed the police report to give to her insurance company.    They told her they would come to her house to investigate.  She went home and waited all day but the police did not come.  Fortunately she has many friends and helpful family, and soon four “spares” were donated so she could get her car back on the road. The following day, she told one of our teachers about the “no-show” of the police. The teacher’s husband is a policeman.  He intervened and phoned the police who then phoned Ma’am Zulu to apologize for not coming.  She said, “thanks for nothing.”  They said they would come in the afternoon when she came home from school.  They did not come.

**I have a few wonderful, competent, friendly, willing grade 6 girls who are taking over some of the library chores.  I am hoping that will help with the transition between when I leave and when the new volunteer arrives in September.


Here are two of my grade 6 library helpers.

**Remember the story on one of my blog posts about my attending a funeral way up in the mountains?  The teacher involved was googling Peace Corps, found and read my blog, and was extremely upset about her family event and her religion being written about. She does not want anything about her or her family written about in my blog.   I was approached privately by both HODs who explained the problem to me and asked if I could delete the post.  I said that I wanted to apologize and that I had no intention of hurting anyone’s feelings or abusing their right to privacy.  I also said that I would contact Caitlin (my daughter-in-law and savvy blog tech helper) and see if the offending portion could be deleted.  I apologized to the upset teacher.   I contacted Caitlin and she very quickly edited the blog.  Thank you Caitlin.  I learned a lesson from this episode.  I am much too casual about using full names. I could have used initials or aliases.   I am also not such a private person. I also know that blogs are only the opinion of the writer.  And even though I don’t like censorship, I was willing to have some of my words deleted, as I am a guest in this country and do not want to hurt anyone.  (I am also SO surprised that anyone found and read my blog!)

**The R20000 from our MassMart grant has been spent!  Electrical supplies for the proposed administration block were purchased.  They are stored safely in a nearby home.  They didn’t take up as much space as I thought they would.


Electrical supplies stored and waiting for a building to be erected in the future.

**i joined a group of volunteers for a fun weekend in Manguzi.  Hilly arranged a boat trip on the Kosi Bay lakes system for all of us.  It is beautiful and protected area with very difficult and limited access.  The weather was perfect, the company running the expedition did a good job, the volunteers enjoyed each other’s company, drank huge amounts of alcohol, danced and sang and talked and snorkeled and ate delicious food.  I stayed over at Maputaland Lodge (showers!) with a few volunteers and was hardly ever alone!  Such dramatic amounts of socialization were shocking and wonderful and healing and exhausting!

Laura, celebrating her 26th birthday, publicly thanked me for paving the way and making it possible for her to have the rights and privileges young women now enjoy.  She is a strong, vocal feminist and had me in tears.  I just thanked her and said keep on fighting for women’s rights!


This is a view from one boat.


This is a view of the other boat.



There were wonderful birds flying and perching and entertaining us. There were even flamingos! And we saw several groups of hippos!



2 thoughts on “Random thoughts and happenings from rural KwaZulu Natal, South Africa

  1. This blog –and the photos are once again so very moving.
    Karen, you are a true heroine. You have survived the incredible challenges you gave yourself (and were given to you) and soon ou get to have a new beginning back here in California.
    Look forward to seeing you sometime in the summer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s